Reported cases of influenza are increasing throughout New York and flu activity in the state is now considered to be widespread, with laboratory confirmed cases in more than half the regions of the state.
"The early reports of flu cases in New York further emphasize the importance of people getting a flu vaccination now," said Dr. Nirav R. Shah, state health commissioner. "A flu vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce your risk for flu and also protect the health of your family and friends."
Since New York began its annual seasonal flu surveillance this fall, influenza cases have been reported in 47 counties and the five boroughs of New York City. This is consistent with nationwide reporting that shows influenza activity is also increasing in many regions of the country.
Flu season generally runs from October through May. Last year was a mild year for flu in New York state, yet there were still 1,167 flu-related hospitalizations and one pediatric death. Over the last four years, there have been a total of 34 pediatric flu deaths in New York state and an average of more than 4,400 flu-related hospitalizations a year.
Symptoms of influenza can include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and muscle aches, as well as a cough or sore throat. These symptoms are often similar to cold symptoms, but come on more swiftly and are more pronounced. Although most people will usually recover from flu without complications, the virus poses a more serious risk for individuals younger than age two, those over 50, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions.
Shah said it isn't too late to receive a vaccination. Since flu sometimes peaks in late winter or early spring, vaccinations at this time of year offer important protection. Health care providers and local health departments continue to have ample supplies of flu vaccine.
The state Health Department recommends everyone six months of age or older receive a flu vaccination. Immunity against the flu develops approximately two weeks after vaccination, providing protection against the influenza for the rest of the flu season. Most health insurance plans cover flu vaccines.
Individuals and families without health insurance should check with their county health department to determine if local clinics will be held to provide free vaccinations. Pharmacists are also able to give flu shots and pharmacies may be an easy and convenient place to receive a flu vaccination.
Those who have been exposed to someone with the flu or a person experiencing flu symptoms should consult with their health care provider to determine whether prescription antiviral drugs may be helpful. Treatment with prescription antiviral medications can sometimes lessen the effects of influenza, if the treatment is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective against influenza.
Although getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent getting influenza, people can also reduce their risk by washing their hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces, such as desktops and telephones, that are touched frequently. Eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and exercise can also help protect against influenza. Those who do experience symptoms or become ill should limit their opportunity to expose other people by staying home while ill and practicing good cough etiquette, such as coughing into their elbow instead of their hands.